|CLOSER HOT SEAT
|ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Greg Aquino, Jose Valverde
Skinny: Brandon Lyon's recovery from an elbow injury is being measured in feet – long-toss feet, that is. The Arizona Republic reported that Lyon began throwing from 105 feet on Saturday as part of his rehab. Just how far that leaves him from returning to action is anybody's guess. The closer is reportedly targeting a return sometime after the All-Star break, which hardly narrows things down. Recently-promoted Triple-A closer Brandon Metters hasn't been scored upon in his first three big league appearances. Bruney successfully converted his fourth straight save chance on Friday and it was Valverde, not Aquino, who got him there by pitching a scoreless eighth.
|CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner, Kent Mercker
Skinny: New manager Jerry Narron won't be adjourning Cincinnati's bullpen committee. Though he expects to make several changes, one thing he won't be doing is naming a closer. The Cincinnati Post reported that Narron will continue to use Weathers, Wagner and Mercker interchangeably in the late innings. Weathers got the save on Friday, just two days after Mercker retired one batter to earn his first save since 2003. Wagner has been terrible (11.91 ERA in June), but Narron is expected to give him a chance to regain his confidence.
|TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Lance Carter, Chad Orvella
Skinny: The Devil Rays made wholesale bullpen changes last week, but for now the shakeup is limited to set-up men. That could change as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. According to the Baltimore Sun, Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar has received more inquires about Baez and teammate Aubrey Huff than any two players in the history of the organization. Orvella pitched two scoreless innings in a tight one-run game on Sunday. The rookie is currently the favorite to take over closer duties if Baez is dealt.
|PITTSBURGH PIRATES WARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow
Skinny: Gonzalez was placed on the DL on Thursday with ligament damage in his left knee. The Pirates don't expect to have their top setup man and closer of the future back until after the All-Star break. Grabow retired Larry Walker and Jim Edmonds with the potential winning run on third base in Sunday's extra-inning win. Pittsburgh added depth to its bullpen on Sunday by recalling Ian Snell from Triple-A Indianapolis. He was 9-2 as a starter and led the International League with 90 strikeouts before getting the call.
|KANSAS CITY ROYALS WARM
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt
Skinny: The Reds appear to have robbed the Royals of their new-manager mojo. Kansas City surged initially under Buddy Bell, but has lost eight of nine since. MacDougal hasn't appeared in a save situation since June 15 when he converted his seventh straight chance. According to the Kansas City Star, MacDougal says the addition of a cut fastball to his repertoire is responsible for his turnaround in 2005. Since adding the pitch, he has 21 strikeouts and only three walks in 18-plus innings. Affeldt is back on the DL after aggravating his groin injury, but the lefty threw on Saturday and didn't experience any pain.
|LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Yhency Brazoban
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez
Skinny: When Eric Gagne entered a game, it was Game Over. Brazoban's entrances have more of a "hold on to your seats" feel. On Thursday, he inherited a one-run lead and promptly walked two of the first three batters he faced. The night before he had to face Brian Giles as the potential tying run while protecting a two-run lead. Still, he has settled down a bit since blowing his first save since Gagne was lost for the season, converting his last two chances. Sanchez has 19 strikeouts in 14.2 June innings and has taken over primary setup duties now that Brazoban anchors the bullpen.
|ATLANTA BRAVES WARM
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Jim Brower, Brad Boyer
Skinny: Reitsma finally blew a save on Saturday, which no doubt has some fantasy owners scrambling for the panic button. In reality, there's not much to worry about. Reitsma hadn't allowed an earned run in his previous 12 appearances. During the streak he allowed only eight hits and two walks. He was hardly battered on Saturday – surrendering five singles, including a bunt, during the three-run Baltimore rally. Both Brower and rookie Blaine Bower have passed former closer Dan Kolb in the bullpen pecking order. Brower was Atlanta's primary setup reliever last week.
|FLORIDA MARLINS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Guillermo Mota, Jim Mecir
Skinny: With two saves last week, Jones is now one shy of the 200-mark for his career. He has converted 13 of his last 14 tries this season. Mota is slowly regaining manager Jack McKeon's confidence. He picked up a win in relief on Friday, and then was asked to pitch the final two innings of Saturday's 6-2 win. The Marlins are still seeking bullpen help. They have reportedly been in talks with Kansas City and Cleveland recently, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Tampa closer Danys Baez would welcome a trade to Florida.
|SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Scott Eyre
Skinny: The 2005 season reached new lows on Sunday when the Giants were blanked 16-0 by the A's. The sweep at the hands of Oakland capped a miserable week that also brought news that Barry Bonds' injury rehab is once again on hold and rumors that Jason Schmidt may be on the trading block. All this doesn't bode well for Walker, who has just one save since June 9. LaTroy Hawkins, currently on the DL with elbow trouble, is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday.
|OAKLAND ATHLETICS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Huston Street
2nd Chair: Justin Duchscherer
Skinny: Street was available on Sunday, but wasn't needed in Oakland's blowout win. Duchscherer made the most of his time as closer – recording four saves and a win in a 10-day period. Now that Oakland starters are piling up quality starts night-after-night, Duchscherer becomes one of the most valuable setup men in fantasy leagues.
Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the deal that sent All-Star Carlos Beltran
from Kansas City to Houston. Fantasy owners who drafted Beltran as high as No. 2 in 2005 drafts will tell you it feels like a lifetime ago that he hit eight homers to lead the Astros to the brink of the World Series, but that's not the point of observing this anniversary. As we approach the 30-day countdown to the trade deadline, it is important for rotisserie managers to keep an eye on the transaction wire. Until the deals start trickling in, however, the focus remains on the field where once again there was some great action to follow:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- Back in 1982, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas and Ben Oglivie each hit 30-plus homers for the Brewers. Though the franchise has had its share of sluggers since, no trio has been able to keep Bernie Brewer busy at the same frequency. If Saturday's results are any indication, that may change very soon. Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder both hit their first Major League homers and Carlos Lee drove in two runs as Milwaukee defeated Johan Santana and the Twins, 7-6. Fielder's homer, a pinch-hit, opposite-field blast in the sixth inning, traveled an estimated 426 feet. Third baseman Bill Hall, who has seven homers in June, also drove in a run for the Brewers.
For fantasy owners, the most intriguing guy is Weeks. Since making his 2005 debut on June 11, Weeks has singled off Roy Halladay, doubled off Greg Maddux and touched Santana for a triple and a homer. That is quite a cycle for anyone, let alone a 22-year-old rookie trying to justify his promotion. Yahoo! owners, it appears, are already sold on this prospect. Weeks, who also has three stolen bases to his credit, is owned in 75 percent of Yahoo! default leagues. As for Fielder, though he closed the week with a homer and a single off the bench, he's likely headed back to the minors once Russell Branyan returns from his Triple-A rehab assignment.
- Had I known what Oakland batters had in store for Brett Tomko and the rest of the Giants pitching staff on Sunday, I would have taken the weekend off and printed the box score as a Market Movers section of its own. It would also double nicely as a bargain bin. Nick Swisher, owned in fewer than 10 percent of Yahoo! default leagues, homered from both sides of the plate as part of Oakland's 16-run onslaught. In his past 10 starts, Swisher has five homers and 13 RBIs from the eighth position in the A's lineup. Also providing pop from near the bottom of the order has been Dan Johnson, who is 11-for-27 with seven runs scored and seven driven in since June 18. He hit 27 homers at Triple-A Sacramento last season and could get another month of solid playing time as Erubiel Durazo isn't close to returning from his elbow injury.
Of course, hot bats aren't the only thing that has propelled Oakland to within five games of the .500 mark. Take a look at Joe Blanton's June numbers: 4-1, 2.02 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, .196 BAA. He was nearly as sharp in April, back when the A's were incapable of providing run support. You'll still find Blanton available in most leagues. The same can't be said for Dan Haren, who after a 4-0 June (0.88 WHP, .207 opp. avg.) is owned in more than 75 percent of leagues. Even Kirk Saarloos is getting in on the act. Though he's still a statistical curiosity with more walks than strikeouts, he boasts a 3-0 record this month to go along with a 2.08 ERA.
- About the only question left unanswered by Mark Prior on Sunday was whether his injured right elbow can hold up when throwing from the stretch. Less than a month after his career was nearly ended by a Brad Hawpe line drive, Prior returned to action with six masterful innings against the White Sox. He threw 71 pitches, 50 for strikes, and allowed only one baserunner. By the time he struck out Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko with mid-90s heat in the fourth inning, those fantasy owners who feared he rushed back to action let out a collective sigh of relief.
Just two days before Prior's gem, Kerry Wood struck out nine in 5.2 near-perfect innings in his final rehab start for Triple-A Iowa. He'll return to the Chicago rotation on Wednesday when he starts against Milwaukee. Though MLB.com reported on Saturday that Jerome Williams was the favorite to remain in the rotation as the Cubs return to health, he came out of the bullpen on Sunday. Williams pitched seven strong innings on Tuesday in his debut with the Cubs.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Garrett Atkins, 3B, Col
With four hits on Sunday, Atkins raised his batting average at Coors Field to .402. Not even Clint Barmes can boast home-cooking splits that high. In 24 home games, the third baseman has four homers, 22 RBIs and 17 runs scored. Atkins hit .397 in spring training and was set to bat second in the Colorado lineup before suffering a hamstring injury that cost him most of the season's first month. He struggled for much of May, but has fought his back to the No. 2 position in the Rockies lineup, batting ahead of Todd Helton and Preston Wilson. Now would be a good time to get on Atkins, as Colorado plays 10 of its next 14 games in Denver.
- Ervin Santana, SP, LAA
It's usually one extreme or another with Santana, and Saturday's start against the Dodgers was no different. Facing Jayson Werth leading off the second inning, the 22-year-old rookie gave up a home run. The two crossed paths again in the following frame, this time with the bases loaded. Santana blew him away with a 96-mph fastball. Such is life with this rail-thin youngster. In his three quality starts, the righty is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 22 innings. His two other starts: 13 earned runs and three homers allowed in just over six innings. The Angels need Santana to find his groove. The team announced on Saturday that Kelvim Escobar needs elbow surgery that will sideline him for at least two months.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
- Justin Huber, 1B, KC (ETA – Recalled June 21)
Huber is a patient hitter in the Moneyball mold. At Triple-A Wichita, he had a .420 on-base percentage to complement nine homers and 50 RBIs in 67 games. He was recalled when Mike Sweeney landed on the DL, and he promptly drove in three runs in his first five big league games. Scouts project him as a 20-homer, .300 hitter at the Major League level. Sweeney's ongoing battles with injuries are well-publicized, but the Royals may still find takers as the trade deadline nears.
- Lee Gronkiewicz, RP, Tor/Double-A (ETA – August 1)
Gronkiewicz struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth inning for Double-A New Hampshire on Sunday, earning his 22nd save and lowering his ERA to 0.83 in the process. The 26-year-old has converted 32 straight save chances if you include his 2004 numbers. The next logical step is a promotion to Triple-A, but the Blue Jays may just give him a look at the big league level if closer Miguel Batista is dealt before the July 31 deadline.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player valuesWilson Betemit
, 3B, Atl – The Braves sent Andy Marte
back to Triple-A on Saturday, meaning Betemit will continue to start while Chipper Jones
is on the mend. Betemit is batting .358 in June and has two homers, two triples and a stolen base in his last seven starts.
, SP, Phi – Season-ending surgery for Randy Wolf
means an extended stay in the Philadelphia rotation for Tejeda. In his past three starts, the rookie has allowed only one earned run on nine hits in 16.2 innings.
, 2B, Was – Spivey homered on Sunday and stole his ninth base of the season. The homer extended his hitting streak to nine games, and the second baseman has eight runs scored in that span.
, SS, Tor – Just a few days after the club announced that Adams would start playing more against lefties, they inserted him in the leadoff spot for the first time this season. He'll split time atop the Toronto batting order with Reed Johnson
Brad Hawpe, RF, Col – Hawpe took Wandy Rodriguez
deep on Tuesday for his first-career homer against a lefty. Success against southpaws is key if Hawpe is going to hit his way out of a platoon situation in the Colorado outfield.
Jayson Werth, RF, LAD – Werth homered twice off Paul Byrd
on Sunday, capping a week during which he homered four times and drove in six runs. He hit a homer every 18 at bats last year for the Dodgers, but has been slowed by injuries in 2005.
, SP, Mil – A winner of five of his past seven starts, Davis matched his career-high with nine strikeouts on Wednesday against the Cubs.
, OF, StL – Persistent neck pain has limited Larry Walker's playing time of late and even when he plays, he's not himself. Taguchi has taken advantage of the opportunity, going 15-for-39 with three homers and eight RBIs in his past 10 games.
, C, SD – Two words: catcher eligible. Fick picked up the extra position last week, which boosts his value when coupled with his .309 average in the month of June.
, SP, Fla – Olsen struck out seven in 5.2 strong innings while making his Major League debut on Saturday against Tampa Bay. The lefty was 6-4 with a 3.92 ERA at Double-A Carolina.
, RP, Min – Since May 1, Nathan is 0-3 with a 6.61 ERA. Thankfully, he reserves his work for non-save situations, but he's just a blowup or two away from the Hot Seat.
, SP, Phi – Nearly unhittable for the season's first two months, Myers is suddenly allowing opponents to hit safely at a .339 clip in June. He is 1-1 with a 6.18 ERA this month.
, SS, Atl – Though he had two hits on Sunday, Furcal's June average remains below .220. According to MLB.com
, the Braves would consider moving Wilson Betemit from third to shortstop when Chipper Jones returns from the DL.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
24 Consecutive scoreless innings pitched by Mark Prior in games that follow a stint on the DL. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Prior's WHIP in post-DL starts is an incredible 0.46.